Urban Goes Human

Cities around the globe are searching for solutions to their traffic issues. In doing so, the key objective is to find a solution that creates harmony between the population’s demands for mobility and living spaces.

Intra-Urban Networking: One-sixth of the land area of Wuxi in China is a testing ground for the autonomous and networked driving of the future. LTE mobile networks connect infrastructure such as traffic lights and road signs with cars and buses. By 2019, 100,000 cars should be comprehensively connected with the surrounding infrastructure. Photo: getty images - shuige

City-internal networking: One-sixth of the urban area of Wuxi in China is a testing ground for autonomous driving. LTE mobile communications connect infrastructure such as traffic lights and traffic signs with cars and buses. Photo: getty images – shuige

More than half of the world’s population is already living in cities, and 80 percent of the planet’s economic product is generated here. According to recent projections, today’s 4.2 billion city-dwellers will be joined by an additional billion before 2030. They will be young and old, need schools, swimming pools, workplaces and doctors’ surgeries. They will also need to be supplied with food, clothing and a multitude of services. Only through the concerted and coordinated efforts of urban planners, building authorities, mobility service providers and industry can these mounting challenges be overcome, and the flow of traffic ensured.

The course for the future of mobility is being set in our urban hubs. Nowhere else are the massive and expensive problems of congestion, noise, air pollution and missed climate goals more pressing. The mayors of these urban centers need to create new and better living spaces. “Cities are transforming ideas into actions,” states Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon, one of more than 9,000 city-bosses that allied in January 2017 to form the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, in order to reduce CO2 emissions and promote sustainability.

Cities as spaces for living

Redesign is inevitable. Architect Jan Gehl has done it before in Copenhagen, a city where pedestrians and cyclists now rule the roost. Nine in every ten Copenhageners regularly cycle, and for 37 percent of them it is their chosen method of commute. They can take advantage of a cycle route network over 1,000 kilometers in length, and which can easily fit two delivery bikes side-by-side. The Dane pleads for marked improvements to public transport, that are integrated into a finely-meshed network. “Making Cities for People” is Gehl’s motto and has made him the most successful urban planner in the world today. Listed among his achievements is the transformation of Times Square into a car-free zone. The question “How do we want to live?” is central to his approach.

Cities must be treated as spaces for living. This means more space for pedestrians, cyclists and leisure, more greenery, less private vehicles, less combustion engines and more public transport. In the future, autonomous and electric vehicles may be the face of delivery transport, with deliveries taking place at night, underground or with drones in the skies above our heads. More than 70 cities around the world are experimenting with autonomous transport. Among them are Bad Birnbach in Bavaria with a population of just under 6,000 residents, as well as Shenzhen in China with approximately 13 million residents. There are 16,500 electric buses currently in operation in Shenzhen. Supplying them with electricity are 510 bus charging stations featuring 8,000 charging outlets. The entire fleet is being switched over. This constitutes a world record and is set to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 1.35 million metric tons every year. Since 2016, London’s famous red double-deckers have also gradually made the switch to electric. Los Angeles Metro – one of the United States’ biggest public transport networks – plans to convert its 2,200 buses to electric drives, and has set aside one billion dollars to achieve this goal.

City Remake: Architect Jan Gehl designed the former seaport area of Stockholm to ensure the optimal balance of residential and traffic density. Photo: Gehl People Urban Concepts: Pedestrian accessibility was the goal of US Architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill in planning the 80,000-resident Chinese model city “Great City” near Chengdu. The design means that the center can be reached within ten minutes from any point. Photo: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture LLP Urban Air Traffic: The vertical-take-off capable electric air-taxi “Cora” from US manufacturer Kitty Hawk is being tested in New Zealand. Photo: CORA KITTY HAWK Logistics of Tomorrow: Swiss firm Cargo Sous Terrain wishes to solve congestion issues by going underground. Cargo tunnels should transport goods un-manned to the edge of Zurich, where they will then be distributed by eco-friendly means. Photo: CARGO SOUS TERRAIN AG

A lack of alternative options is often to blame for the overloading of America’s highways. The situation may now be changing in Florida. The three-billion-dollar, privately-financed futuristic express rail link “Brightline” recently connected the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The intention is to sway drivers with its speed. Elegant rail stations and adjacent parking lots provide the comfort factor. For the smartphone-wielding populations of our most industrialized cities, mobility is increasingly an on-demand service. “Transport as a Service” is all the rage among under-30s, as cars are no longer regarded as status symbols. In the megacities of emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India – where the automobile remains highly coveted – networking and intelligent traffic management will aid in preventing congestion, while electrification will counteract the smog.

The reform of mobility systems is now, more than ever, one of the main challenges for our planet. This is the conclusion of a study performed by consulting firm Arthur D. Little in April. According to the study, only five of the 100 world cities examined – Singapore, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Hong Kong – have made significant progress in the right direction. Good intentions need to be matched with concrete steps.

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